Sunday, May 24, 2009

Her favorite Son-in-Law...

We suffered a heavy blow this week when Donna's mother, Katherine Riley, passed away.

I believe I had mentioned in a previous post that she had fallen ill while on vacation in Florida. Earlier in the week, there seemed to be a good deal of hope that she might pull through. But congestive heart failure had taken its toll, and she died on Wednesday morning.

After conferring with doctors and her nurse on Tuesday, we decided to send Donna down to Florida so that she could be with her. Donna actually talked to her mother early on Tuesday and as we were driving to the airport, she actually had some positive thoughts. But waiting in the Orlando airport for her flight to Fort Myers, her mom's longtime companion, Dave Senn, called Donna to tell her that her mom had passed away.

That was a tough phone call to get, both for her and for me. There's Donna, all alone, sitting in an airport, knowing that she almost made it to her bedside to say goodbye. And I, on the other end of her call, feeling pretty helpless as I listened to her sob and not being able to do anything about it.

Kay Riley was a very interesting person. She grew up in Pennsylvania, but had spent a good deal of her adult life in Akron. Looking at early pictures of her, she bore a more-than-slight resemblance to Loretta Lynn. I'm told that, in addition to being a fan of Country music, she was a singer and even sounded like Loretta Lynn! Her life history, according to Donna and others who would sit around telling tales, also resembled the subjects of many of those old Country songs. She involved herself in some relationships with men who were often violent. She struggled to raise Donna and her two brothers on the salary of a bartender, often working multiple jobs. She always liked to tell the story of the guy at the bar who sold her the house they lived in...for a dollar! Donna always told me that it was a great deal...if you liked a house with no indoor plumbing and a dirt floor for a living room!

When I first met her while dating Donna, I also met her new boyfriend, Dave. And it would be "Mom and Dave" for the next 22 years. They would be inseparable. Even when radio took us to places outside of Ohio, we would invariably get a visit from her and Dave. They helped us move to our apartment in Knoxville. They'd drive over to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon for an impromptu visit. And they were the first visitors here when we moved to the St. Louis area. Kay was also a huge Cleveland Indians fan, and she made Dave, who was never a follower of sports, into a fan, too. This is a woman who even watched all 34 spring training games on TV!

She also called me "her favorite son-in-law"(even though I was her only son-in-law!). No, we didn't always get along. And Donna didn't always see eye-to-eye with her mother, that's for sure. Who does? Kay was very opinionated, and her sometimes -stubborn positions helped us to clash early on. But peace usually ensued when she would share another one of those stories about how she grew up or one about some crazed guy at one of the bars at which she worked.

But even her deteriorating heart wouldn't stop her from doing the things she enjoyed. She continued to bowl twice a week. She continued to go out to movies with Dave. And they even spent a couple of days in Branson, Missouri before they ended up in Florida earlier in the week.

She sometimes wore gaudy, outlandish clothes. She loved butterflies. She made this beef-and-noodles dish that was a must-have at family functions. At restaurants, she always asked for water and an extra glass with LOTS of ice in it. She was always trying to "sell me" on some magic herbal medication that she found on some late-night QVC program. And she always said, "Matthew, when the good Lord takes me, that'll be when he takes me".

And He did, on Wednesday, May 20th in Port Charlotte, Florida. Your favorite-son-in-law will miss you, Katherine.


* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at

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